It’s over than twenty years ago that Nellybert and The Wee Mannys went to Fermanagh for the weekend. We stayed in little chalets near Belleek which were, and still are, very popular with fishermen.
To say it was a fraught weekend would be putting it lightly although it all started well. On our first evening The Wee Manny volunteered to be Chef and was for preparing the Best Steak in the World which involved stuffing. Don’t ask why – it was the eighties. While he was creating culinary heaven the rest of us, including baby Laura, went to the nearest pub. The atmosphere was not what you’d expect of an Irish hostelry. There seemed to be little evidence of the famous Irish hospitality or craic. Of course we thought it was just because they didn’t like the look of us. And maybe they didn’t.
We didn’t stay there long. Before we left I promised myself a browse round the Belleek shops next day. It was not to be.
While we’d been out The Wee Manny had become bestest chums with the Swedish fishermen in the next door chalet. It seems they had toasted this new-forged friendship in many, many glasses of Bushmills. Oh dear. Whiskey was never the Wee’s best choice of a drink as it tended to make him a wee bit crabbit.
But at least the dinner was ready. The salad was very nice. Maybe a tad rough, but tasty enough. The steak was overdone. Uncharitable people would have said burned. But not so burned it was inedible. Something very strange had happened to the stuffing. It must have exploded. The Wee never explained. But it was everywhere. All over the table, on the floor, on the chairs, in the salad, in his hair, up his nose, stuck to his eyebrows – we didn’t mention it. The tiny bit that made it on to our plates was delicious and we were effusive in our praise. We got drunk.
And then to bed. What a night. We hardly slept a wink for the sound of gunfire. Turned out that the IRA were shooting at the Belleek RUC station from across the border the entire night.
Next day found the village completely cordoned off and the Swedish fishermen strangely stand-offish. It was far too dangerous to let locals or tourists go up the street. So we spent the day border-hopping. If we were stopped at a check point once, we were stopped twenty times. If it wasn’t the Gardai it was the RUC or the British Army. That night we nodded off to the sound of gunfire once again. Fermanagh is a beautiful county but we weren’t one bit sorry to return to the relative tranquillity of Antrim*.
Tomorrow Bert and I are thinking of returning to Belleek for the first time in over twenty years. We’ll be hoping to find it a bit more relaxed than the last time. We’ll let you know.
*During the Troubles our part of Antrim had its share of incidents but compared to the cities and the border counties we lived a fairly normal life. Or so we thought. It wasn’t until it eased off that I realised how grim those times had been.